Literature Class, Berkeley 1980

Literature Class, Berkeley 1980


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A master class from the exhilarating writer Julio Cortázar

“I want you to know that I’m not a critic or theorist, which means that in my work I look for solutions as problems arise.” So begins the first of eight classes that the great Argentine writer Julio Cortázar delivered at UC Berkeley in 1980. These “classes” are as much reflections on Cortázar’s own writing career as they are about literature and the historical moment in which he lived. Covering such topics as “the writer’s path” (“while my aesthetic world view made me admire writers like Borges, I was able to open my eyes to the language of street slang, lunfardo…”) and “the fantastic” (“unbeknownst to me, the fantastic had become as acceptable, as possible and real, as the fact of eating soup at eight o’clock in the evening”), Literature Class provides the warm and personal experience of sitting in a room with the great author. As Joaquin Marco stated in El Cultural, “exploring this course is to dive into Cortázar designing his own creations.… Essential for anyone reading or studying Cortázar, cronopio or not!”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Between October and November 1980, the late Argentine novelist Cortázar taught eight classes at UC Berkeley. Available for the first time in English through Silver’s agile translation, Cortázar’s sometimes stimulating and sometimes pedantic lectures cover topics that include literature‘s relationship to politics and music and the differences between realistic and fantastic fiction. In the first and most thought-provoking lecture, written in 1980, Cortázar begins by admitting that he has “always written without really knowing why” before listing stages he’s passed through as a writer: aesthetic, metaphysical, and historical (the last of which he still finds himself in). He’s less engaging in the lectures that discuss time and fate and attempt to define literary realism. He perfunctorily concludes that the difference between realism and fantasy is that the former places a greater emphasis on plotting and plausibility. Cortázar breezily tells one class that he began Hopscotch, perhaps his best-known novel, without a “precise literary architecture” but instead as a kind of “approximation” that “little by little found its form.” Though students’ questions from each class are included, these transcripts nevertheless lack the vitality of spoken exchanges and will most appeal to confirmed Cortázar fans. (Mar.)

The Culture Trip

Based on the words spoken by Cortázar and his students, the class that he taught appears to be an interesting hybrid of Cortázar as tour guide of his body of work, and as mentor into the broader lessons about the qualities of fiction that resonated most with him.

The San Francisco Chronicle

A glittering showcase for a daring talent—Julio Cortázar is a dazzler.

Christopher Higgs - Big Other

One of those books that radically shifted my thinking about the possibilities of narrative.

The New York Times

A first-class literary imagination.

The New Yorker

As Cortázar stresses throughout his talks, writing is rarely a pursuit of answers but, rather, about investigation—of the self, of one’s work, and of the world at large. The goal of the novel, Cortázar says, is to harmonize its formal and literal questions into a central, destabilizing quandary: 'Why are things like they are and not otherwise?

Dustin Illingworth - The Atlantic

The consequent lectures—originally delivered in Spanish and translated adeptly by Katherine Silver—are erudite, intimate, charmingly fragmented, and anecdotal, covering a range of topics, from “Eroticism and Literature” to “The Realistic Short Story.

Juan Vidal

"There's no question that Julio Cortázar is among the most revered Latin American writers of any age. In Literature Class, readers are treated to a series of talks the author gave at Berkeley circa 1980. They range from meditations on the writer's path to the elements of an effective short story. "I'm not a critic or theorist," he writes, "which means that in my work, I look for solutions as problems arise." While this may be true, it's hard to imagine anyone better suited to tackle the endless possibilities of literature and language itself."”

Carlos Fuentes

Cortázar spoke of something more than novelty or progress—he spoke of the radically new and joyful nature of every instant, of the body, the memory and the imagination of men and women.

John Flynn-York - The Rumpus

[T]he lectures, at times, do feel cobbled together—but in the best way, in the way of art that thrives in complexity and contradiction. They are made from pieces of Cortázar’s life, his writing, his experiences as a young writer in Argentina and an as exile in Paris, his deep engagement with literature and cinema and politics, and they show the mind of a writer at work, asking questions and unearthing new possibilities.

Jeff Jackson - Fanzine

Literature Class is a serious boon for Julio Cortázar fans. Delivered at the end of his life while visiting UC Berkeley, these eight lectures offer fresh insights into the mind of one of the 20th Century’s most vital writers.”

Pablo Neruda

Anyone who doesn’t read Cortázar is doomed.

Gabriel García Márquez

He was, perhaps without trying, the Argentine who made the whole world love him.

The New Yorker

As Cortázar stresses throughout his talks, writing is rarely a pursuit of answers but, rather, about investigation—of the self, of one’s work, and of the world at large. The goal of the novel, Cortázar says, is to harmonize its formal and literal questions into a central, destabilizing quandary: 'Why are things like they are and not otherwise?

The New York Times

A first-class literary imagination.

Kirkus Reviews

A collection about the art of fiction.After the influential Argentinian writer Cortázar (1914-1984) had written his greatest and most significant works, he accepted a position at the University of California in 1980 to deliver a series of classroom talks. The first one, "A Writer's Paths," is autobiographical. He confesses that he's "not systematic, I'm not a critic or a theorist, which means I look for solutions in my work as problems arise." He passed through three stages as a writer: the aesthetic, when he was reading extensively, including Borges, who was for him a "literary heaven"; the metaphysical, which was a "slow, difficult, and very basic inquiry…into man [and his]…destiny"; and, finally, the historical, during which he realized that he had to confront his Latin American roots, its history and politics. Other talks take up the topic of the fantastic, referencing writers like Ambrose Bierce, W.F. Harvey, and Oscar Wilde. Two talks explore Cortázar's Hopscotch, A Manual for Manuel and Fantomas. He goes into great detail about how he wrote his stories and novels and reads extensively from them, sometimes entire stories. There are some tips/advice for young writers to consider, but not very much. Cortázar had some notes, but generally these talks are delivered extemporaneously. Though impressive, sometimes they ramble and lose their way, and sometimes they just get dull. Because the lectures are transcribed as is, the book would have benefited from some judicious editing—e.g., leaving out matters concerning office hours. Some kind of introduction would also have been useful. In every talk (during and after), Cortázar takes questions from the students, which are included. His responses are carefully thought out, some going on for pages. It's great to have these insights from the author himself about his writings, but it's a bumpy ride for all but a small, scholarly audience.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780811225342
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 03/28/2017
Edition description: Translatio
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,215,314
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

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